Showing posts with label Van Gogh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Van Gogh. Show all posts

04 August 2019

Sorry, Sorry Night

by Leigh Lundin

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait with bandaged ear
Vincent van Gogh
self-portrait, bandaged ear
Everyone knows the story of Vincent van Gogh. In desolation and desperation, he sliced off his ear and gave it to a love interest, a local prostitute.

Much of that tale is problematic, even outright false. I have a simpler theory:

He missed.

Wait, wait… I’ll explain.

First, let’s correct one fact right off. Not every one who works in a church is a priest, pastor, or parson. Likewise, not every one who works in a whorehouse is a prostitute. Van Gogh presented the ear to young Gabrielle Berlatier who worked not as une fille de joie, but as a maid, serving, sewing, sudsing the laundry.

Women were the least of Vincent’s problems. His trip to the south of France hadn’t worked out, his paintings weren’t selling, and he was dependent upon his younger brother Theo for a small monthly stipend. Naturally, when a person pays money to another, they feel entitled to offer advice.
Sunflowers
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
“Vinnie, Vinnie. What am I going to do with you? Sunflowers? Who cares about sunflowers. In my dreams, I hear a voice chanting, ’Take a leaf from O’Keeffe.’ Don’t know what the dream means, but there you go.”

“But Theo…”

“And that weird thing, Drunken Fireworks on Bastille Day, title it Starry Night. Listen, I’m an art dealer. I know these things. You with me, bro?”

“But Theo…”

“Look, a healthy guy ought to paint nekked women. Look at Manet, look at Georgione, Gérôme, and hey, your buddy Gauguin. Naked people, now that sells; flowers not so much. Try to be more, well, like Toulouse.”

“Too loose for what?”

“Vinnie, Vinnie. Check out other artists, man, keep your ear to the ground. You so got that Dutch yardstick-up-your-klootzak thing. That peasant who models for you, what’s his name?”

“Er, something with Zach, maybe Balzac, Shadrach, Mezach, Prozach, I dunno.”

“That’s enough to depress anyone. Gotta go, bro. That argument with Paul, get over it. Gauguin’s a good guy. Tell him to send me some work. See ya, Vin.”
Van Gogh was one down-and-out dude. No luck selling his works, no luck with women, no job, no money, no friends– Van Gogh found himself beset with problems, especially depression.

On the 23rd of December 1888, he underwent a nasty row with his roommate, Paul Gauguin. Hours before Christmas, Van Gogh found himself abandoned, alone except for a bottle, actually a case of bottles.

He drank. He drank a lot. He followed Gauguin and waggled a straight razor at him. Gauguin sensibly fled to a hotel.

Vincent, truly alone, a man and his bottle… and a device commonly called a cutthroat razor.

The very drunk, very depressed artist decided to take his own life. He unfolded the blade. Intending to deliver a huge, decisive stroke, he raised the razor high above his shoulder, above his head. He hesitated, then whipped the blade down in a dramatic slash toward his quivering throat and…

Gaugin - Fatata te Miti (By the Sea)
Paul Gauguin - Fatata te Miti
Missed.

Gashed his ear, slicing it nearly off. Momentum lost, the blade glanced off his neck.

The inebriated artist botched his suicide.

The shock of blood and pain brought Van Gogh partially back to his senses. Woozy, he wrapped the ear and staggered to the brothel. There he unsuccessfully begged the teenage seamstress to sew it back on for him, a job too much for the girl.

Vincent van Gogh hadn’t deliberately cut off his ear. He’d intended to cut his throat and bungled his suicide.

So says my hypothesis. What’s your take?

19 January 2012

Interesting Books by Not So Big Names

by Janice Law

Devil All the TimeIn the book business today, a handful of big names and celebrity personalities use up most of the promotional oxygen. The result, as any writer knows, is that a host of worthy and interesting volumes get overlooked. Three concerned with crime might be worth your time, although only two of them are strictly speaking category mysteries: Donald Rae Pollock's The Devil All the Time, Karen Fossim's Bad Intentions and Lene Kaaberbol and Agnette Friis's The Boy in the Suit Case.

Easily the most flamboyant is The Devil All the Time, which got quite a bit of literary attention last year, in part because of Pollock's interesting personal history, which includes leaving school at 17 to work in a meat packing plant and thirty years in a southern Ohio paper mill. Clearly this was not someone who rushed prematurely into writing.

His earlier collection of stories, Knockemstiff, was set in the Ohio town of the same name where he lives. The Devil All the Time shares that venue with a West Virginia hamlet, and which is the more toxic venue is hard to decide. Both are full of psychopaths, often of a religious persuasion, and include a pedophile evangel, husband and wife serial killers, a World War II vet, deranged by his wife's terminal cancer, a corrupt sheriff, and a variety of lost souls, revivalists, and small town losers.

The good news about The Devil All the Time is that it is wonderfully written in a vigorous, but not stultifyingly profane, vernacular. The plotting is ingenious, and all the many plot strands and lose ends are satisfyingly, and plausibly, wrapped up. So is it just scribbler envy that produces my reservations?

Maybe, but maybe not. Folks with long memories will recall that periodically a novel about the depraved underclass -this one, the white, protestant underclass of the Midwest and the Appalachians- proves popular. I don't know if the novel's critical acclaim is related to the politics of the moment, but Pollock certainly heaps on the misery without restraint. The serial killers alone would have been a pretty rich blend. Combined with Willard Russell's blood-soaked 'prayer log,' abusive behavior in nearly every chapter, and a truly far out pair of revivalists, one does begin to think that far from being 'gritty realism,' this is fantasy of a particularly gruesome sort and that some really fine gifts have been employed with more 'sound and fury' than substance.

Bad IntentionsThe other two novels are both Scandinavian semi-noir. Norway's Karen Fossum is one of those low key and subtle writers whose books aren't going to be transformed into doorstop sized best sellers. She's not nearly as flashy a writer as Pollock, but she has a real feel for grief and for the consequences of violent action. Bad Intentions is told from the point of view of the perpetrators, an unusual and tricky ploy, given that the initial, fatal, crime is over when the book begins. Fossum pulls it off nicely.

All the characters are well drawn, with the possible exception of one genuine sociopath, and surprisingly sympathetic, and, as a result, the novel is sad. Don't read this when you are in need of something bracing and cheering. For that, you're better with Alexander McCall Smith's The Saturday Big Tent Wedding.

Boy in the SuitcaseThe Boy in the Suitcase is a Danish import with a plot line to give any parent, particularly any single parent, the willies. The writing is functional, using the modern style of short chapters and multiple points of view to keep the plot moving, and once the action kicks in, it's a genuine thriller. Ignore the often shaky motivation and enjoy an effective take on the familiar Scandinavian Noir features of domestic abuse, illegal immigrants and the arrogance and entitlement of top people in a wealthy society.

Like The Devil All the Time and Bad Intentions, The Boy in the Suitcase reflects our changing view of the sexes. In The Devil, almost everyone is depraved but the women are either brain dead or idealized. Bad Intentions is pretty even handed, although women are still seen as especially vulnerable to charismatic men.

The Boy in the Suitcase, reverses all this. The men are either ineffective, unreliable or brutal. The leading women are the crusaders and the avengers, and by the end, one does feel some sympathy for Nina Borg's anxious husband and children, who are left at home to worry while she attempts to save a small piece of the world.

Finally, although not a mystery or even a novel, Van Gogh, The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith not only offers an enormously detailed portrait of this difficult and sad man's turbulent life but a new take on his death. According to the authors, Van Gogh's 'suicide' was more likely an accident or a homicide, and the artist, as quixotic and idealistic as he was violent and unstable, may have claimed suicide to spare the young perpetrators.

Now there's a plot any writer could get behind.